Being stuck in traffic, waiting for your favorite Netflix show to load, someone cutting in front of you in line or even being "hangry" - these are all situations where many find themselves suddenly erupting in a fit of rage. While there may be numerous psychological, emotional and personal history factors that could explain why individual people just “snap,” one book explores what triggers anger based on neurobiology.
According to author and neurobiologist R. Douglas Fields, there are nine triggers in the brain that cause outbursts of sometimes uncontrollable anger. He refers to these triggers using the mnemonic "LIFEMORTS," which also refers to the first trigger: Life and Death ("morts" is the French word for death) situations.
The nine triggers, as identified by Fields, are the following:
L - Life or Limb / Survival
I - Insult
F - Family / Maternal Aggression
E - Environment / Territorialism
M - Mate
O - Organization
R - Resources / Lack of Resources
T - Tribe / “Us and Them” Mentality
S - Stop – Being Trapped, Restrained or Cornered
Fields goes into more detail into these triggers and how various life situations set off these responses in the brain in his book “Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain.”
A crude remark made about a man's wife or girlfriend, for example, which escalates into a bar fight is a situation that triggers the M (Mate rage) circuit, while being cut in front of as you're driving is a more complex situation that actually touches upon all nine LIFEMORTS triggers.
Fields also describes how politicians and political campaigns are often masters of manipulating these triggers – particularly the T (Tribe) and E (Environment) triggers. The important thing to remember, he says, is to see instead how these triggers can help in uniting people in empathy and seeing how different people can belong to the same community (tribe) rather then letting those triggers lead to anger.
Fields goes into more details how the brain may sometimes send false warnings due to these triggers, and these are situations when a person may snap and just as suddenly think better of the situation and allow their anger to subside. He notes that understanding the LIFEMORTS triggers is an important tool for those with anger management issues to be able to ascertain if something is really worth being angry about or not.
“Once you can recognize why you are angry, rather than suppress it, suddenly it goes away. Suddenly it’s disarmed. It’s a misfire,” Fields says in an interview about his book.
Photo: Saurabh Vyas | Flickr